Essay Topic: In your opinion, what is the greatest ethical challenge facing the world today? What are the ethical issues involved and how can we work together to overcome this problem?
The Perfect Retail Experience: Designer Babies
We live in a time when the world faces a series of unprecedented ethical crises; where military intervention and euthanasia are slowly becoming the new normal; when terrorism is rampant; social apathy is a stark reality. It is imperative that we, as a global community acknowledge these major ethical issues and work closely together to find effective, peaceful and practical solutions to pressing ethical dilemmas. In my opinion the greatest ethical dilemma that we face today is the many controversies that engulf ‘designer babies’ and the dearth of administrative decisions pertaining to this.
What are designer babies?
Designer baby is the term assigned to an embryo that’s genes were manipulated, in vitro, so as to “eradicate a defect” and/or safeguard the existence of a specific gene. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and germline genetics (the processes used to manipulate embryos), however, are double-pronged swords. While parents can use it to lower risk of debilitating diseases diagnosed prenatally, it can also be used to select gender, characteristics and other features of the unborn baby. Molding your perfect designer baby costs approximately $24,000, one-tenth of the price of a Gucci diamond belt. Frankenstein is no longer disingenuous, and Victor Frankenstein’s experiments are no longer unorthodox. Designer babies are an ethical terror, knocking on our doorsteps.
Fuelling the Gender Divide?
Some clinics allow parents to ascertain the genders of their children, by deciding the number of X and Y-chromosomes, a factor that determines the gender of a human being. Supporters of this method claim that it helps in balancing families, ensuring an equal number of boys and girls. Clinics assert that they offer such services to parents who already have children. Others argue, that in a world that favors men, providing people with this option will only add fuel to this discrimination. In countries such as my home country- India and China, where female infanticide and sex-selective abortion are already omnipresent, innumerable couples will prefer to have male children. For centuries, many Indians have believed in the superiority of the male child; men are the only breadwinners in multiple Indian societies. The spread of technologies required for PGD and IVF will only result in a disparate, discriminatory, dogmatic community. As an Indian girl I often see gender discrimination around me, when parents have multiple children in hopes of giving birth to a boy, when the birth of a male child is celebrated with more zest than a girl’s. Like many others, I fear that genetic manipulation will skew gender ratios even further.
What is the perfect blend?
Scientists are confident that with steady technological advancement, the world of PGD will undergo a paradigm shift. Parents will be able to choose physical traits like eye color, weight and height. Many fear that this will promote the creation of a culture that supports certain ‘beautiful and likeable’ features. Critics dub these ‘build-a-bear children,’ and this concept has received immense backlash. Furthermore, this specificity of features requires a large number of embryos to be destroyed. Taking so many lives in search of a perfect baby is cruel, savage and inhumane. However, supporters of designer babies contend that deciding whether to manipulate the morphology of a child lies in the parents’ hands and is a private affair. Analogies likening plastic surgery to the PDG process have been drawn frequently. What they overlook, however, is that unlike plastic surgery this process completely neglects the rights of the unborn child. It is advisable for fertility clinics and hospitals that will offer such services to counsel parents on the consequences of their decisions, if no law is passed on this methodology in the future.
The Medicine Market
With the advent of such babies, people believe that patients at fertility clinics will now become customers. Buying your child will become a run-off-the-mill experience and purchasing reproductive organs will become common. As a larger percentage of the general public turns toward buying genetic material, medicine will change from the ‘practice of the diagnosis and treatment’ to a repugnant retail opportunity. However it is crucial to note that many people state their support for the sale of genetic material, seeing it as a profitable endeavor. They consider the purchase of genetic material to be advantageous for their children, buying eggs from models and sperm from cyrobanks gives them the upper hand in a prejudiced society. But can we really draw a parallel between salesgirls and gynecologists?
Is my life really my own?
Genetic enhancement can potentially allow parents to choose a child’s talents. The iron fist of highly ambitious parents will soon clasp over the necks of unborn children, determining their future as scientists, composers, artists etc. Supporters of this vision of designer babies have no qualms with choosing their children’s future because they believe that genetic enhancement will only help improve skillsets. Critics argue that this method will set high bars of excellence for children. They will be pressurized to perform exceptionally well in specific fields. More importantly, this does not allow for the child to explore his/her own passions. They are given no say whatsoever in who they become and what they choose to pursue for pleasure or a living. Furthermore, differentiating between genuine and disingenuous achievements will become nearly impossible, eliminating all joy associated with victory.
Homo sapiens vs. Homo deus?
Designer babies, with their enhanced genes, will be far superior to the common man. Their abilities will surpass our own, their chances of sickness will be drastically lower. Designer babies will become homo deus (mortal Gods), with their higher IQs and better skillsets. (In fact, a survey conducted recently found that 13% of parents are eager to test for a child’s IQ)This will lead to economic prosperity for the homo deus and more competitive industries for us, homo sapiens. For many, this isn’t a primary concern. The world is already split into two: the rich and the poor. A genetic divide will only conform to the wealth-based classes in our society. The poor will not be able to avail of these facilities. Lee Silver, in his book Remaking Eden, discusses the future of planet earth, where ‘GenRich’ and ‘GenPoor’ will prevail. GenRich will be use its power to dominate GenPoor.
Who chooses what’s right?
As more and more parents choose to give birth to designer babies the question of who decides what conforms to the norm is often raised. Is blonde better than brown? Is homosexuality better than heterosexuality? James Watson, an acclaimed scientist once claimed that mother’s with heterosexual or dyslexic children should have the option to abort them. Should we create a world of the same human beings with the same talents, preferences and appearances? Should a mother abort her child just because he/she does not have an aptitude for music or has green eyes?
Guardian Angels vs. Saviour Siblings?
Savior siblings (also known as savior babies) are children who are conceived through in vitro fertilization, and born with the intent of providing a vital organ to a sibling beleaguered by a life-threatening disease. For instance, Megan Matthews, a 9 year old had a fatal blood disorder. Doctors feared that she would not live past the age of seven. However with a tissue transplant from Max, her 1-year-old sibling, she survived. Often, this is the only viable method of saving a child. Opponents insist that giving birth to a child simply to save another is inhumane. The child will always think of himself/herself as disposable once his sibling’s life is saved. We have reached a time where praying to guardian angels is futile, hope for your savior to be a sibling instead.
Having analyzed this issue, it is evident that the decision that we face is ethical in nature. Do we prefer a society of ordinary homo sapiens or potent homo deus? The answer for me is simple, using PGD to reduce disease risk is acceptable, but using it to select traits is morally wrong and should be banned. While this will create a healthier society, it will not destroy the stability of our community or even distort the competitiveness of markets. The government should restrict research in PGD to only research labs and scientific institutions. This should be banned in medical institutions for the near future, until we are presented with facts and not mere speculation on the power of PGD. The rights of savior babies must be protected with the same intensity as another child’s. The right to have a savior sibling should be ruled upon by a proficient jury. We must decide now, before designer babies become ubiquitous and the choice slips out of our hands.
Tara Agarwal is a high school student at the Dhirubhai Ambani International School, located in Mumbai, India.
Designer Babies, a book. Hot Topics